Theater has a long-standing tradition of getting to the heart of matters that affect human behavior, actions, and relationships. As addiction and mental illness grip the lives of so many people worldwide, there have been a wide variety of award-winning plays and musicals that portray people who wrestle with issues of mental illness or addiction.
Long Day’s Journey into Night
Eugene O’Neill’s play examining his own family’s painful addiction history won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. The story centers on the character James Tyrone, father to two sons, Jamie and Edmund, all of which are alcoholics, and their mother Mary, who has just returned from treatment for morphine addiction. As the story unfolds over the course of one day in 1912, Mary relapses and the men drink. The play shows a family in crisis, hiding problems, attacking each other over substance abuse, and almost everyone in the story struggles with some form of mental illness or addiction.
Grey Gardens, winner of three 2007 Tony Awards, tells the story of an eccentric mother and daughter – both of whom are named Edith Beale. Based on a 1975 documentary, the musical traces the two women’s descent from a rich and socially polished lifestyle to ruin, isolation, and extreme hoarding, which can be linked to obsessive compulsive disorder and may develop along with other mental illnesses, such as dementia and schizophrenia.
Water by the Spoonful
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer for Drama, Water by the Spoonful intertwines two storylines, one set in the everyday world and the other on the Internet.
All of the principal characters are haunted by mental illness addiction related memories, and although some relationships remain broken, they draw their strength from one another’s support.
The first storyline follows Elliot, a traumatized Iraq war veteran with PTSD and an addiction to painkillers. The second takes place in an online chatroom run by recovering addict Odessa, who ends up being integral to Elliot’s story. In the chatroom, the characters interact to work through the causes and consequences of their crack cocaine abuse.
All of the principal characters are haunted by addiction-related memories, and although some relationships remain broken, they draw their strength from one another’s support.
Next to Normal
Winner of three 2009 Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this operatic-rock musical dives into the mind of a housewife diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Next to Normal examines issues such as how bipolar disorder causes family upheaval, the difficulties of prescription drug side effects, and the ethics of patients refusing treatment.
As the resentment grows in the main character’s daughter, she also turns to abusing substances, starting with marijuana and her mother’s prescriptions, and then moving onto other drugs. Plus, her relationship with her boyfriend mirrors the codependency of her parents. Ultimately, Next to Normal is a grim tale of how families can pass mental health issues and addictions down to new generations.
Dear Evan Hansen
Winner of the 2016 Obie Award for Musical Theatre, Dear Evan Hanson is about a lonely, misfit high school kid with social anxieties who is on anti-depressants. When a bullying classmate commits suicide, a series of misunderstandings prompts Evan to lie to the boy’s grieving parents about the nature of his and their son’s friendship, which eventually leads to Evan becoming a social media sensation. The show provides insights into adolescent insecurity, the struggle for parents of teens with mental health issues, and how grief can draw social media attention.
The Drama of Dealing with Mental Illness or Addiction
Morningside Recovery treats people who suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction, as well as those who suffer from co-occurring disorders. Alcoholism and depression don’t have to control your life. To begin your journey toward your recovery, please call us at 855-631-2135. Our helpline is open 24/7 and our treatment specialists will work with you to find the right treatment option for your mental illness or addiction.